TELESCOPE is bent over laughing entertainment. Part of Red Line Productions THE NEW FITZ, a season of ten Australian writers, this show is wonderfully, obliquely … silly. In fact, histrionic, hilarious, high spirited, it is an exercise in advanced silliness. With a whole heap of my viewing-year-so-far bests!
Beginning with best use of an antennae to open a show. Daniel is on the lookout for aliens when we meet him as we enter the theatre. He and his transistor and his aerial are perched on a table centre stage. There is great deal of leaping and arm raising and getting of mixed signals. (Terrific audio cues btw) until his parents arrive.
Mum and Dad get my best in show for most disengaged parents! Only slightly interested in anyone else’s agenda, this absurdly dysfunctional family is completed by the arrival of Lenny. An expert non-listener, she is driven to try and save the family home from the Government’s greedy claws as it buys up the Sydney suburb. Their little home and those around it are the perfect place for a radio telescope and there are big ass bucks to made by selling up and heading out. Continue reading BROOKE ROBINSON’S ‘TELESCOPE’ @ THE OLD FITZ→
Loved it. I just loved everything about New Theatre’s THE CHAPEL PERILOUS. I loved the lead performance, I loved the men, I loved the set, lighting, audio, costumes. I loved the Ensemble work. I even loved my Cherry Ripe at interval.
But then … I would say that wouldn’t I.
Any Australian woman of a certain age, who studied literature or was involved in theatre or who loved too deeply, has Sally Banner as part of her feminist socio-political DNA.
Playwright Dorothy Hewitt called the play outrageously biographical, so much so that one of her ex-husbands sued for libel. The out of court settlement meant that the play was never produced or sold in Western Australia until his death early this century. But the time is right for Sally Banner to rise again.
I was despairing to see her again and there she was fully fleshed. Tormented by unseen desires, achingly desperate and encumbered by intelligence, gender and status Sally Banner is one of the more difficult of the monstrous regiment of women who dare an opinion. She is as I remember her. Yet….
Director Carissa Licciardello has brought us a Sally Banner for a new generation. Not updated exactly, still scrupulously set 1930s to 60s but a modern protagonist for all that. However, it’s a very difficult play. An audience needs to know about the society Sally inhabits: it is not writ large, it’s background only and if you didn’t live it, it must seem very foreign. There were several noisy escapees last night and more who didn’t return after interval. But it’s a marvellous rendering so, young or old go and see it. But here’s what you need to know if you haven’t met Sally before.
Catholics or Masons: small towns were divided that way and Masons had lodges not schools. Viciously rigid, ecclesiastical Sisters and Mothers and Brothers and Fathers were the way to get what your parents saw as a good education for nice girls. Not that it mattered. Nurses or teachers … that’s why women went to university. Same sex desire, youthful sexual desire of any overt kind actually, was sinful and there was no shortage of people your age and older to condemn it in you. As consciousness heightened in them the search often took women to a political place and the fear of the Red Menace was just as real in Australia if not as excessively hunted as in the US.
Our introduction to Sally Banner is when she looks out and begins a list of women’s names, aspirationally adding hers to the list as a poet. Julia Christensen holds the stage from that first sequence. Christiansen is terrific as the schoolgirl Sally. Pragmatic and driven but young and passionate. By the time she cheekily looks directly at us before she is called to bow to the altar, we are hers. When her indecision and acquiescence to some of the men in her life muddy the passion of the older Sally, Christiansen brings so much genuine emotion to the role that tears arise unbidden. I headed to wash my face before getting my interval chocolate.
And her voice work is exceptional. After interval, when the strewn wreckage of Sally’s choices rises and falls on the Red Tide she both whispers and yells with no sign of strain or any assault on the ear. The accent is modern. No clipped Received Pronunciation here; vowels are long and consonants elided. Her physicality is open and she listens with as much intent as she speaks. It’s a bravura performance.
And she is well matched by Tom Matthews who plays the men in her life. The directorial choice to tie these men together with a unified softness of manner gives strong character support to Sally’s disappointed search to rewrite that first betrayal.
Mathews’ men are clear characterisations with clear intent but are neither showy not abrasive. He might don eyewear or divest of a shirt but he doesn’t twist or manipulate these men into being. We understand that they are Sally’s ‘type’ and that their individuality is blurred by her perceptions of them.
Licciardello has guided all her cast into fine characterisations. As Judith, Meg Clarke expresses well the struggles of acknowledging love outside societal norms and her perfidy is convincingly torn. Brett Heath and Alison Chambers are scarred and scared from the war, from boredom, from being saddled with a difficult child and they work well together as the first wall that Sally must scale.
Though the first section of the show is an hour and a half, the second much shorter, Licciardello has also successfully plotted the rhythm of the play. There are busy scenes but there is also quietude to allow an audience to appreciate the pathos. The after sex scene is an excellent example of the intelligent, intellectual heartbreak of a formative disappointment. There is also some lovely movement work from the cast. The break-back dip during Night and Day was so subtle, sweet and character filled that I gasped out loud at its power.
And Licciardello has brought out the humour too, right from the beginning where misguided recollections batter at reality. I might have been the only one laughing quietly last night, but when you do go allow yourself to enjoy the lightness of the play. And the communal nature of the stylistic interventions of Hewitt’s text. Like the music of Jerusalem and The Worker’s Flag with the slow beat of an unfelted shoe on a bare stage.
Kyle Jonsson’s set has a primitive, claustrophobic feel reminiscent of Stone Age caves with sacrificial altars. When lit from behind the implication of a paling fence is there in upstage uprights but the real effect is to echo the Eureka Stockade. Our heroine tries to rebel against being fenced in for much of the play. The entrances are well masked, wide and perfectly timed by the cast. The symbolic triangle, the Egyptian and feminist symbol for woman, though inverted, dominates the set. And provides the lighted path to Sally’s final act toward the Chapel Perilous of Arthurian legend.
Clemence Williams audio and Martin Kinnane lighting had me from the start. That first burst of thunder and lightning to herald initial character entry… wow. The lighting is warm and focusing and the big hits of white from upstage glare and foreground when needed. The state changes gently guide the audience eye as the audio underscore impassively supports the emotional imperative then gets out of the way. Single sounds, bassy or higher pitched; long and mournful the audio wafts and weaves without overpowering.
Even Neko Case on the soundtrack at interval was emotive and perfectly chosen. Courtney Westbrook’s costumes raise the scarlet standard high amongst the unremitting beige and grey and I loved the almost imperceptible change of period style after the interval.
I loved it all. New Theatre’s THE CHAPEL PERILOUS is one of my favourite shows this year. Pack some Cherry Ripes in your handbag and experience what a modern cast bring to a story of its time. Not to be missed.
THE CHAPEL PERILOUS continues at New Theatre, Newtown until 27 May.
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